S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. The following podcast contains explicit language welcome to if then the show about how technology is changing our lives and our future. I’m Aaron Mac.
S2: Everyone welcome to is then we’re coming to you from Slate in Future Tense a partnership between Slate Arizona State University and New America. We are recording this on the afternoon of Tuesday October 1st. On today’s show we’ll talk to Danielle Citron a law professor at Boston University who just won the MacArthur Genius Award for her work on cyber harassment Citron has written extensively on cyber stalking online mobs and revenge porn. I’ll ask her about why she sees online harassment as a civil rights issue and how laws can catch up to address the problem. After the interview my colleague Shannon Polis will join me for don’t close my tabs.
S3: We’ll talk about the best things we saw on the web this week. That’s all coming up on if Ben.
S4: A warning to our listeners in this conversation we talk about online sexual harassment. It includes graphic descriptions of sexually violent threats. Last week the MacArthur Foundation announced its 20 19 class of fellows also known as the MacArthur Genius Award the fellowship recognizes those who have shown extraordinary tenacity and dedication in their creative pursuits. Each fellow receives six hundred twenty five thousand dollars as an investment in their work. Danielle Citron a law professor at Boston University was named as one of the 26 fellows for her research on cyber harassment. Citron has studied issues like online stalking mobs and revenge porn for more than a decade. She was in fact one of the first scholars to study this phenomena and raise awareness about their harms lawmakers Facebook and Twitter have sought her advice on how to handle the epidemic. More recently she has done research on the dangers of deep fix citron is also in multiple times with Slate and is the author of the 2014 book hate crimes in cyberspace. So I know you must have told this story many times already but what was your reaction to receiving the fellowship.
S5: So I have to say they got me on the phone by saying that I was going to be talking about a nominee ever contemplated for yourself. That’s absurd. So I was thinking well these two friends of mine like who I would think they’re going to call me about. And it was John Palfrey who was the president of the MacArthur Foundation. Now I at first I thought so my friends Dan Neal kind of punk me all the time. And at first because I’ve been writing about deep leaks audio and I thought Is this really John Paul Fray. I think I must have said oh my golly like a hundred times. I don’t remember much but I do remember I was really skeptical of John Hunt. Bob Rae Yeah.
S4: So what do you plan on doing with the grant.
S5: Do you think so I know what I’m going to do with the grant it couldn’t be more auspicious timing. So I was just on the cusp of thinking through my next book which is gonna be about sexual privacy. And so I’ve done some preliminary work. I had a piece where I published in the Yale Law Journal about kind of theorizing What is this foundational value. Why is it important why is it especially important. These are the other kinds of privacy why does it deserve special protection what do I mean by it. And so I’m so I’ve been doing some interviewing of victims of invasions of sexual privacy and so I was just gearing up to write the second part of this that’s sort of what are corporate obligations views of the hour intimate data. So I’m working on that for a lot of the article right now and for a talk that I’m giving at William and Mary Law School that Wyeth lecture. So I’ve been so geared up to think this summer I was gonna start writing the book.
S4: So a lot of the press coverage notes that you were one of the first scholars to recognize online harassment as a pressing issue. So when would you say this kind of first came on your radar.
S5: You know when I first start writing about online harassment and sort of describing it as the new frontier for civil rights people are like You’re crazy. And I worked really hard to convince people of that and some aspects of cyber harassment involved invasions of sexual privacy. So the posting of someone’s nude photos without their consent. Hacking into their computers and stealing their intimate conversations or intimate communications you know cyber stalking apps. But I’ve been writing effectively about sexual privacy without explaining why it’s a foundational value how it’s different from other aspects of privacy why it deserves special protection so you know writing about cyber stalking out is writing about sexual privacy because it’s invading your most intimate of communications your conversations with your intimates on your cell phone the photos that you take. You know it’s in the bedroom with you your cell phone. And when a cyber stalker has the app and puts it on your phone they can hear you. They turn on the microphone and can hear what’s going on in your bedroom in your bathroom. You know throughout I’ve been sort of thinking about ways in which technologies document and use information and share information about our intimate lives without explicitly saying so. So I feel like a lot of that work has been building toward it or two summers ago start thinking about sex torsion and writing about deep fake sex videos to me was all about sexual privacy but I hadn’t yet articulated it in that way. So when Bobby Chesney and I first started this is in late 2007 these are writing about deep takes together. To me that was about an invasion of sexual privacy because it starts with the inserting of faces know female celebrities faces into porn. And so I thought that I want to write and theorize sexual privacy I want explain why it’s so important. I want to create a concept and map it out and then talk about how individuals invade each other’s sexual privacy. Companies are doing how government is doing it you know insisting that trans individuals use certain bathrooms is about exposing and shaming you for your gender identity. And so I knew that was my next. You know I feel like I was doing it without saying so explicitly.
S4: And now I get to do in a book when you you just mentioned that when you first started writing on cyber harassment there was a lot of ism around it. Where do you think that was coming from.
S5: You know definitely social attitudes. I heard it from law enforcement and victims heard it from law enforcement. I heard it from colleagues and scholars. When I presented my really early work in 2008 on Cyber Civil Rights the response was Come on Danielle. It’s the internet. If you do anything like regulate online speech you’re going to break the Internet. And we must not touch the Internet was like the skepticism from so many quarters and social attitudes both about our relationship to network tools about the role that the Internet played in our lives we almost like all caps the internet is sort of how I imagine people were talking about it as if it was only a public square without a meaningful recognition it’s how you make a living you know how journalists you got to be on Twitter if you want to make a living I’m telling this to you. So you know you would know better than no doubt but you know network tools are how we are it’s our CV. And so the idea that it was just one thing that it was just ones and zeros that it was just speech and thou shalt not touch it was like a crucial part of how you know the kinds of resistance I faced from even wonderful scholars and colleagues. And then you go to law enforcement and because it’s so often a story about women and nonwhites and you know LGBTQ folks the response was You’re just seriously making a big deal about boys being boys relax yourself calm down. And so you know victims would go to law enforcement and they would be facing rape threats. The publication of their nude photos without consent Doc saying you know their home address and phone number is often with like fake ads that they were interested in sex and they go to law enforcement state local even Feds and they were told there’s nothing we can do this is just mischief online. It’s no big deal. Turn your computer off it will drop down in a search of your name eventually or folks were told like go buy a gun. It’s in Florida so I’m super shocked. But it’s devastating when we know that there are these social attitudes about gendered harms that absolutely replicated the responses to cyber harassment mean just the way that we responded to workplace harassment. You know boys will be boys. It’s just a perk of the place it’s no big deal. Suck it up it’s your choice you work or you don’t work. But it’s up to you. So we once had those same attitudes in the 70s about workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence. You know we said it was a private matter that families had their own rules. I was told the same thing about you know the net. Cyberspace has its own place with its own rules. And if we bring a lot of bear we will break it. To me it was like we were telling the same social attitude same stories that we once said about domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. We overcame those. We realized that you know you want to have an equal opportunity in life. You got to be able to work free from abuse from sexual harassment in the workplace and you want to make something of your life opportunities. You have to be able to go home and not fear being beaten and raped and so online so important to all of our life our opportunities are using these tools whether it’s LinkedIn Facebook Twitter or cell phones or with us wherever we go. And so the idea that we would turn them off and tell victims just go off line seem to me to be absurd. Well you don’t have to take that job with that person. It’s the same crucial life opportunities you know your cell phone for a lot of people that is their workplace. To me with the same fallacies that were clouding our thinking about the workplace in the same social attitudes we had a different spin on it now because and especially like the Free Speech angle you know the idea that we would bring a lot of there was like Oh my God you’re the enemy like you want someone said to me this is early in my work on this and someone I adore a colleague a free speech colleague said you want to yell communists don’t you.
S6: And I was like absolutely not. Yes. Seems like our attitudes have changed a lot. So as you’ve been saying this over the past decade or so I mean give a theory as to why online harassment is so gendered why women have become so vulnerable to it online in particular. Is there something about the Internet ecosystem that kind of feeds that.
S5: I think it’s a couple of things coming together. You know we have these social attitudes and pathologies off line. So of course there with all of us and we mask them pretty well at work because because it’s costly now you know like if you work we can mask it because we know you can get fired. You could get a demotion. You know it’s risky to do it work at least in part not all workplaces but in a lot of workplaces it’s the norms have changed and the laws changed. But it still exists in us unfortunately. I think what online life has allowed is because you feel it’s called De individuation you feel that you’re not accountable you feel anonymous you can take out your grievances and your feelings and so hatred and great. And just externalize it and it’s cheap and easy to do. Think oh costless it is to put up someone’s home address if you’ve done a pretty good job now of masking yourself like back then was harder to trace people now it’s like online behaviour advertising I don’t know how people mask themselves at all but if you’re smart enough use Tor you know it’s pretty easy and then you put up someone’s home address and say they’re interested in sex someone shares a nude photo and you want to mock and shame them embarrass them you post their nude photo on Twitter you send it to their parents their friends it’s pretty low cost and especially because the social attitudes aren’t yet we don’t have perfection in terms of the changing social attitudes and so you usually get away with it. Unfortunately I think it was it’s this combination of you can hide yourself you may it may exist and live in us it definitely does because I wish I have to say we’ve seen a lot of change in wonderful ways in the law and social attitudes in companies and law enforcement but unfortunately you know after the you know with the run up to the 2016 election and with basically a leader who gives permission structure to target people and harass them and also bigotry. We’ve seen a doubling down I think of mainstreaming of hate in ways that we hadn’t seen before. I really thought we were doing much better and then the election hits the kind of permission that was given to go after Julia Yoffie after she writes the story about Melania Trump and cut and pasting her face into an oven on Twitter and all of us on the ADL Task Force it happened to all of us once it was announced that we were working on the issue and it was Jew bitch die and win a radio like was in my inbox and I’m just an academic and I think because it’s cheap and easy and we know that in particular women and sexual minorities and nonwhites are vulnerable in this way. And when you make a rape threat to a woman or to a gay man the threat of anal rape it’s scary. It reflects real life in that way. And social attitudes that exist on sadly there now we see them on full display online.
S6: You mentioned earlier that there seems to be this pattern with a lot of these harassment stories where the victim goes to the police and the police has no idea what to do. What do you think law enforcement should be doing here what is their role exactly and have they gotten better at dealing with these reports.
S7: We definitely have come a long way in terms of educating law enforcement. So I worked with when she was the A.G. Kamala Harris on coming up with programs to educate law enforcement on this on peace officers in California and the laws they had on the books that they could use right now. And we created her office and with the help of a number of us who are working on the cyber exploitation task force creating a Web site that would educate law enforcement about the tools that they had in hand and the laws they had that they could enforce. And we’ve seen work the FBI deploying resources to train local and state law enforcement on how to approach investigations involving online abuse you know going to an online service provider getting a warrant then going to the ISP with the IP address or identifying information that that’s been a process. It’s certainly not perfect. I can’t tell you the number of emails I get to this day from victims of nonconsensual pornography of her out of you know harassment and abuse that say no one’s doing anything and please help me. I now have lawyers I can connect them with and pro bono practices like the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project this incredible lawyers that can all go to do pro bono work on behalf of nonconsensual pornography victims. And we do we are seeing cases brought being brought. We are seeing convictions with invasions of sexual privacy and harassment. So we shouldn’t give up on the project because we just need more education and resources and training for law enforcement on the ways in which they do investigations involving and finding perpetrators because that’s First things first is defined folks OK we’re going to take a quick break.
S6: We’ll be right back with more from Daniel Citron I wanted to ask a bit about how you kind of research harassment campaigns. You know when an online mob kind of flood someone. So are you are you just following the threads of attack and kind of labeling and quantifying them. How exactly do you try to trace.
S7: That’s how I got drawn in with this sort of cyber mob attacks against female law students on the Web site auto admiral and the cyber mob attack against Kathy Sierra. She’s a program software programmer who was mobbed on her blog and then to other Web sites that were sort of run by folks that had written the clue train manifesto so like technologists and you watch it unfold on auto admit with threads organized by women’s names and what would follow was truly a snowballing of the most horrific of vile rape threats and sexual fantasies. What she was wearing at the gym where she lives like under women’s names you saw the mob. You saw it unfold in the threads. Same with Kathy Sierra. So all the comments on her blog. Her blog was flooded with like a photo a photo of her beautiful blonde hair and her face with like underwear choking her. If someone had doctored a photograph and someone had taken a photograph of Cathy’s hair and put a noose beside her neck and then you saw on these two Web sites you just had to follow the posts. It wasn’t even that complicated like the research wasn’t even that deep in the sense of I don’t know who the folks were. People wrote under persistent pseudonyms. And so you saw like Hitler would write on auto admit constantly about you know same women and there would be a daily thread and the same people would be discussing it and would come up in searches of these folks names. And so what really drew me to this entire project was the story of the cyber mob and the way in which people escalated and became more extreme as they watched other people become more extreme and you watched it unfold and the threats that were daily or sometimes a few times daily on message boards and then on on blogs and Web sites and in the comments section. And so that’s really how I sort of framed all of this and the reason why I thought of it was a civil rights problem is because you know you think of and of course it’s so different from the Klan and lynching mobs. But behind the veil of anonymity. People do and say things they would never I’m sure do or say in person. I mean the most descriptive graphic sexually demeaning accusations people had herpes and AIDS and the kind of gang rape scenarios they envisioned. Can you imagine like they wouldn’t say that face to face but they had the veil of anonymity they wrote behind crazy screen names and got fixated on various women and you could see almost like a video game. You know I’m saying like people what I rape her this way this is how I do it doggy style. It would be responsive to one another. You’re right it was very much watching and documenting taking screenshots printing out pages. I can’t tell you for the autumn that case I had like so many print outs in my house of you know what the women face in two of the women to Yale law students female law student sued thirty nine posters. And so you had the you of course had the documentation of the lawsuit you the. And I interviewed more than 60 people. Harassment victims and for my recent work on sexual privacy I’ve done about 10 interviews and developing and doing more because you know when you tell people stories I’m not a social scientist I’m not. But I am telling people’s experiences. It helps us really appreciate all of the fullness of the harm in ways that you can’t really replicate. I think telling their stories is such a crucial part of know attesting to what happened having us really feel it this really and experiencing it with them and then we can appreciate the sort of theoretical implications and policy implications of all of this.
S6: Yeah. Just on a human level does this ever kind of take a toll on you wading through all this really violent misogynistic content.
S7: Like I can’t imagine doing this day to day you know how I always sort of viewed it was like whatever I was experience was nothing compared to the people I interviewed. And then you do get targeted I have to say like Gamergate. My book came out just as GamerGate was picking up steam. So they tax on Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and these are all people I now know kind of well like having interviewed them talked to them and given talks with them like Brianna will and I presented together once you get outed as like what they called a social justice warrior. This is in 2014 when my book comes out. I got up. My kids were flipped out. There’s my cell phone number my home address. You know your inbox is full of really unlovely things my family sometimes question me like you sure you want to do this. I was like Guys I’ve been doing this for 10 years. And I understood their anxiety of course. And then I just always said think about Brianna. Think about you know all the people Holly think about all the people I’m writing about and just what that is like. So sort of tried to keep it in perspective.
S6: Well that sounds awful. I mean just based on your own experiences and the more you’ve interviewed what is the psychological impact it has on its victims. I mean are you constantly looking over your shoulder or what what do what happens.
S7: I would say it’s totally rising. Like you interviewed several folks would say the same thing I was thinking that both the abuse is a playbook and the experience is a playbook in the sense of like you talked to victims and they wake up in the middle of the night and they Google their name because what’s next and they’re terrified and they feel like everyone knows who they are. They’ve seen their naked bodies like someone planted at a hotel. A camera must have been an employee. So we think and filmed this woman while she was showering and the person who spied on her and took the video sent it to her law school classmates and put it up on pornhub along with her name and her home address. She got these bizarre phone calls from strangers who said you’re on pornhub I saw you taking a shower. And so that’s how she figures out how to Google herself. He then sends it to her nearly her entire law school class because he finds them on LinkedIn. I mean I’m assuming it’s a he. So I’m just going to say that because we don’t know who it is yet. And then the person got in touch with her to say I demand more nude photos of you or I’m going to post them again because pornhub would take it down and then inevitably the person would put it back up and it was like a whack a mole. The victim could never outrun the person and then not just pornhub but read to know all these porn sites all over the place along with her name. She refused she called me. So what do I do when I say you’re not set this. That’s extortion. It occupies so much space in your head because not only are you know somebody is fixate on you and has your nude photo and is sharing it but it’s tormenting you and keeps going. And so then you worry that everyone who sees you on the street at the gym is staring at you a little too long. What if they’ve seen it. The photo and it’s just you would think it’s in the bathroom she’s undressing she’s showering I’ve seen when your classmates view you in that way. That state of vulnerability and your masturbation material on pornhub It is devastating and it takes a really long time to kind of work through a feeling of forgiveness at least this one victim told me. You know I’ve been talking to her now for a year and a half two years and it’s taking a long time to feel like she feels bad for the person versus feeling so angry and obsessed and looking online every second she’s a lawyer with a very serious fearful job and incredibly smart. And you know if anyone’s kind of equipped to deal with this stuff you would think it’s someone who’s a lawyer and who gets the legal implications and she’s trying to work with law enforcement. But it still feels so out of control and terrifying that there are thousands of eyes on your body and you didn’t give permission.
S9: We’re going to take another quick break and then we’ll continue our conversation with Daniel I’m wondering you’ve sort of started studying deep fakes now and I’m wondering if you see these kind of stories replicating with this technology. Do you think we’re gonna be seeing a lot of the same case studies that you’ve been seeing in the past.
S7: I have been interviewing and talking to Rana IU who’s a journalist in India about this is April of last year. A video was essentially shared with over half the funds in India of her engaged in a sex act and she’s this beautiful woman with big brown eyes and it’s her like. She showed me the video it is distinctly her. It’s a deep faith of her engaged in a sex act and with it goes viral and 48 hours is a very outspoken voice on government corruption and the Hindu Nationalist government. And so it was shared on WhatsApp wildfire 48 hours then embedded in her Twitter feed her Facebook you know her Facebook profile in her inbox rape and death threats fake ads that said she was available for sex and here’s her parents home address she was living with her parents she’s young and devastating. She wouldn’t go outside she was terrified she couldn’t eat or sleep and it’s been a year. So she is finally sort of feeling brave enough she’s so brave. Period to talk about it publicly but it took a really long time for me even to feel safe traveling. She gives talks for her work the UN Council on Human Rights about like a week after it started happening issued a statement saying they were worried about her safety because of the doc saying because you know she is a well-known female journalist in India and you know she was terrified to leave her house and to this day she worries you know someone’s going to take a picture and make a better deep fake sex video. I think we’re only going to see this problem escalate depict technology. It diffused so quickly to go on YouTube you’ll see all these tutorials about how to make fake videos you just can make them on your desktop. And now it requires fewer photos to make wholesale out of wholesale cloth digital cloth in a porn video from scratch. You know we can easily insert faces into porn videos that’s kind of that’s where it starts on the sub Reddit the tutorials are really easy to find and the technology increasingly easy to use.
S6: Yeah. So it seems like the technology is getting easier to use and it’s becoming more sophisticated. I mean is there any way we can prepare for this. I mean in some ways it just feels like we’re waiting for something awful to happen and to keep happening before we really know the nature of the problem. Is that frustrating or do you think there are ways we can kind of pre-emptive this wave.
S7: There isn’t a silver bullet I always feel like I have to preface this by saying you know I’m a lawyer I’m a law professor but I wish that there were legal tools that say OK we can deal with this. Laws are pretty modest role now. I’m walking Mary Anne Frank and I are working with folks on the Hill because we just have a huge gap in the law and working on a sort of what we’re calling digital forgery or impersonations that cause harm significant harm and criminalizing the practice. The creation side as well as the distribution side with you know making sure they’re a sort of knowledge that the person knows it’s a fake and isn’t just distributing a video person thinks is real. That’s a harmful video that’s not parody. That’s not satire but law. You know it’s gonna be modest. The platforms have a role to play. We’re in the midst of a very important public conversation about their responsibility. And I think we should change the current shield from legal responsibility that they currently enjoy. It’s pretty broad but we’ve got to be really careful on how we fix Section 230. So Ben with us and I have sort of offered proposals that would basically condition the immunity unreasonable content moderation practices in the face of illegality. I don’t think we should take away the immunity but we’ve got to be careful. And of course education to each and every one of us including journalists so they don’t amplify deep fakes I know the Wall Street Journal has gotten some training on these fakes I work on a presidential campaign and the idea of training these sort of inside of the campaign about deep fakes is an important priority and getting other campaigns to think about it because my deepest worry and it was true Bobby Chesney my co-author and I we write about topics together are we were so worried before 2018 and I think we’re even more worried for 2020 because the technology is soon like within three to six months it’s going to be impossible as a technical matter telling the difference between what’s fake and real. And so the idea of detection is is really we’re in an arms race the creators the generators of fakes are gonna be beating the detectors. I mean they’re wonderful brilliant technologists like honey Fareed or working on verification approaches and detection approaches. But you know you talk to technologists and we’re not there yet. There isn’t a silver bullet in terms of detection and these tools are just getting more sophisticated and it requires time to debunk them and sometimes we don’t remotely have time. The night before an election the deep faith showing the major candidate gravely sick the deep faith. The night before the IPO or the announcement of a release of a major drug and you know the video showing the company CEO confessing that the drug causes cancer. My worry is that given how time sensitive it is that a it’s hard to debunk before they’re real serious harms and b my worry too is that the confirmation bias problem felt like if videos are negative a novel we’re really attracted to them we’re gonna spread them and if they confirm our beliefs we’re gonna believe them and no matter how much you debunk a lie if it confirms your viewpoints and especially because it’s video and audio it’s visceral then it becomes embedded in our memories. And that’s really hard to shake. I am more worried than I I’m confident that we’re going to deal with it in ways that are optimal. But I’m encouraged by all sorts of efforts by technologists by lawmakers advocacy groups companies I work really closely with a few tech platforms not I don’t get paid for my work it’s the whole idea is I’m just a sounding board but I’m encouraged by the thinking at least sense of internal responsibility. They’re not perfect. My golly no but I’m at least encouraged by some steps to address and think about it. What do we do.
S6: So as we head into this election what should people be looking out for when they look at images or video. I mean are there any telltale signs that we have right now that something’s a deep fake or will it be pretty much impossible.
S7: I think by then by the time 2020 rolls around it might be impossible even for a technologist to detect the fakery. And so I think when we see something that’s negative outrageous it’s time to write before important decision points. You’ve got to ask ourselves Is this real and wait before we share it. I mean and like and laying there. What makes a deep faith go viral is us. Each and every one of us our own human frailties or attracted to the negative and novel we spread Fake News 10 times fast and then we’re gonna fake you know spread accurate stories we believe you know stories that confirm our viewpoints and when it’s audio and video we have a visceral reaction to it. We’ve got to be mindful all those things our own human frailties we are the bug in the code we spread it right and and social media is just magnify. They just supercharge our worst tendencies. That’s their business model right. Absolutely they make money as commissioner Chopra said in his dissenting opinion in the Facebook case. They feed on and exploit our weaknesses. So we’ve got to catch ourselves. You know I’m saying like we’re we are both the problem and the solution. Am I confident that we’re going to overcome our human frailties I’d like us to try.
S9: That’s a great note to end on. Thanks so much for coming on. It is such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
S8: All right we’re going to take one quick final break and then Shannon Polis will join me for dinner with my times.
S10: We’ll talk about the best things we saw on the web this week okay now it’s time for.
S11: Don’t close my tabs. Joining me now is my colleague Shannon Polis who will be hosting the show next week. Hey Shannon Herrin. So my top for this week is a vice article titled this company thinks they can solve diversity with hundred thousand fake A.I. faces. It’s a piece about this company that makes stock images and the company recently used an AA algorithm to generate portraits of people who don’t exist. So now it has this database of 100000 fake faces that it’s offering up as stock imagery and it’s been advertised as a way to produce infinite diversity I suppose because all of these fake people are fake people of color and vise notes that this seems to be a way for companies to have a semblance of diversity without actually having to pay money to models from underrepresented populations. And I just thought this was peak Silicon Valley. There’s just a certain amount of hubris you have to have to think you can solve diversity issues with an algorithm like this. And I sort of worry that companies will eventually think that it’s easier just to build a fancy algorithm than to just hire more people of color.
S12: It seems so odd because people of color are they exist and they are happy to do jobs in exchange for money just like anybody else who posts for his stock photo. Like what a weird problem to decide that you need a technology for it.
S11: Yeah exactly. It seems like you can just. They think they can just throw a lot of money at it and in the long run you have to pay the actual people that you’re trying to represent. Yeah. It just seems like it speaks to the ethos of big tech in the tech industry in general right. Like someone at the stock photo company I can just imagine brings up the fact that they don’t have enough people of color in their photos and they’re just like how can we fix this as quickly as possible instead of thinking through it the larger implications of why they don’t write it kind of reminds me last year when we had that big spate of sexual harassment cases in Silicon Valley and you heard a lot of people at these big companies saying Oh we’re gonna hack sexual harassment and like we’re just going to find a big like Moonshot project to fund and solve this which seems like it’s it’s again that same kind of thinking that you can just find some sort of expensive tech solution for our problem that will probably take just a lot of work. It’s like you can apply the faster better cheaper mentality to be social issues when really what you need is like I mean probably it sounds like executives at this company like sitting in a room doing some emotional or can.
S13: And then and then taking steps based on that.
S11: So what’s your tap for this week.
S13: My job is I’ve been staring at photos of Antarctica online all day. Specifically there’s some good ones from the Atlantic and National Geographic. I’m doing this because I’m working on a story about how air B is sending five volunteers to Antarctica in December for 10 days to look for signs of micro plastics. And I think it’s kind of a silly idea. That is real research that needs to be done going to Antarctica for looking and looking for signs of micro plastics. But there are just so many other ways that air view can contribute to science vs. like sending people who apply through air BMV to go on this hugely carbon costly trip and you know maybe not really know what they’re doing and be able to have them posted on these Instagram pictures to make air behavior look really good. It just seems like a massive stunt but one side effect of working on this is like Antarctica is really really beautiful. It’s just been fun to kind of space out a little bit and taken the imagery and it kind of made me wonder. Part of the purpose of this urban beach trip part of the alleged I guess real purpose is to send these folks there so that they can come back and then be like ambassadors for Antarctica and ambassadors for the fact that people are using a ton of plastic and traveling in time and killing the planet and doing all those things that like Air B B itself contributes to. And we have this kind of idea that we need to go to a place and like get our footprints all overhead and massive ecosystems in order to really understand it. I love nature. I get that visiting places is really cool. I’m not going to lie if I had twenty five thousand dollars I go visit Antarctica as well. That’s how much it costs for seven days or so. But it also really made me think about like how I don’t really take in these far flung places in a way that technology allows me to wait.
S11: Why exactly does air PNB think it should move into this space or is it did they try to tie it to their core business or is it just like something they’re doing. Great question.
S13: The obvious answer is PR. It’s this Aryan vs sabbatical thing. They did one over the summer where people went to a small town in Italy and tried to help revive it. It’s kind of like I don’t know if when you were in high school like if any of your friends if any of your rich friends went to other countries to volunteer and help build houses and like have something fancy to put on their college applications. But this is what this whole enterprise sounds like to me. And it’s like are you doing a little good while you’re there maybe. Is this like the most productive way for us to be living our lives. Maybe not.
S11: It kind of reminds me of how awesome some of these private companies are like trying to find people to go to space like they’re just kind of like setting up contests for people to eventually go to Mars or something which I guess the calculus is slightly different there but it seems like this kind of the stunt of sending people to remote places for ostensibly scientific and because in this case conservation purposes is somehow alluring to a big big tech.
S13: It feels so small and they all have this theme of like you can further science and human knowledge by going yourself not by like volunteering to do Scott work in a lab cleaning out beakers but by going on this big adventure like that’s how you will save the planet. It’s like such an American idea.
S14: Have you found anyone who’s like applying or are you going to apply. Oh that’s a great question. I think my piece is gonna be critical so I don’t know that they would select me to go on the trip. Maybe I’ll give it to you just to prove you wrong. You know that’s like the start of our round. Conversely exactly like I’m in the rom com and being.
S2: All right. That’s our show. You can e-mail us at then at Slate AECOM. Send us your take questions show and get suggestions or just say hi. You can also follow me on Twitter. I’m that R.A. Mac. Thanks again to our guests Danielle Citron. And thanks to everyone who has left us a comment or a view on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you use to listen. We really appreciate your time.
S15: If then it’s reduction of Slate and future tense a partnership between Slate Arizona State University New America. If you want more of Slate’s tech coverage sign up for the future tense newsletter every week you’ll get news and commentary on how tech advances are changing the world in ways small and large. Sign up at Slate dot com slash future news. Our producer is Justin Dee right.
S2: Thanks also to Rosemary Belton who engineered for us in D.C. We’ll see you next week.